(KSNF/KODE)— There are roughly 19 million veterans in the United States according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. There are 1,113,787 just within the Four States. That means, a little over 5% of the total U.S. population of veterans is found within Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, and Kansas.

Do veterans need support?

Understanding the types of challenges veterans can experience is a start to supporting those who served our country. Veterans face all kinds of obstacles after they return from serving. According to the National Academy of Sciences, many veterans suffer from more than one health condition such as service-related physical disabilities, traumatic brain injuries, or mental health conditions. PTSD, sexual trauma, depression, anxiety, grief, substance abuse disorders, suicide, and suicidal thoughts are all very common among veterans. These challenges can often be isolating and receiving support or care isn’t always easily accessible.

Out of the Four States, the Department of Veterans Affairs reported the suicide rate in Missouri was significantly higher than the national veteran suicide rate and higher than the national general population suicide rate. Oklahoma, Kansas, and Arkansas were reported as not significantly higher or different from the national veteran or general population suicide rate.

Health-related issues aren’t the only challenges veterans experience. Many face social and economic challenges when trying to readjust to civilian life. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development press release veterans represented 8% of sheltered adults experiencing homelessness in 2021. That number does not account for the probability of even more veterans currently experiencing homelessness outside of accounted shelters. Not to mention the challenges of employment. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported veteran unemployment rate was at 4.4% of all veterans in the U.S.

Veterans need a full spectrum of services that targets healthcare and transition care into civilian life. Veterans face very specific and unique challenges due to the circumstances they faced during their time serving. However, there are many barriers that can hinder veterans from seeking assistance— stigma being one of them. The American Addiction Center says the military culture values “teamwork, toughness, and self-reliance.” Some veterans may feel ashamed of needing help and embarrassed or fear that they will be seen as weak or blamed for their problems. To combat these stigmas, the U.S Department of Defense has initiated programs to reduce those misconceptions, notably around mental health. You can read additional information about that here.

Do veterans have access to healthcare?

While the Department of Veteran Affairs offers specific healthcare for veterans, some may not know if they are eligible, or know how to apply. VH facilities may not be easily accessible for all veterans— especially for those who are no longer able to drive or rely on others to transport them. Most VHA healthcare facilities in Missouri, are located in central Missouri, as seen here. In fact, this is a common trend in Oklahoma and Arkansas as well. Kansas only has one VA clinic to service the entire state. Traveling 3+ hours for a visit isn’t ideal, especially if a veteran has to take off work to do so, and nearly impossible if the veteran is facing homelessness. Some benefits are no-cost but have a limit on how many years post-service a veteran can receive that no-cost care.

Traveling, cost, work, and other limitations can open the door for many more issues and reasons why veterans don’t seek the care they need. There are other options for healthcare such as Medicaid, Medicare, and private insurance but there can be eligibility obstacles to these avenues as well.

You can start to seek healthcare for a veteran in need by following this link HERE or getting in contact with your state-specific Veteran’s Commission for more information on resources available in a specific area. To locate a Veteran’s Service Office/Officer near you just click your highlighted state out of the following: Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas.

How can I support a veteran who is experiencing a mental health crisis?

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis or having thoughts of death or suicide it’s important to talk to someone right away. Day or night the Veterans Crisis Line offers free support, is confidential, and available 24/7. Dial 988 and Press 1. To chat online follow this link HERE or text 838255.

According to the CDC, the average rate of death by suicide among veterans is 17 a day. In this joint study report seen here, released in 2022 by America’s Warrior Partnership, Duke University, and The University of Alabama, there were thousands of cases of suspected and confirmed veteran suicides that were not included in the federal calculations. If this trend had continued across all states and was included in the federal calculation, it would put the national average at 44 veterans a day instead of 17.

There are a number of ways you can support someone who may be struggling. You can keep them safe by learning suicide prevention and recognizing the signs here. Learning and securing lethal means such as guns and medications are just as important. You can find more details on what that looks like and how you can implement those practices here.

What else can I do?

Public education and open conversations about the challenges veterans face will help destigmatize the act of seeking help. Reach out to those within your community, and don’t shy from difficult or uncomfortable conversations. These opportunities could help you and others understand the difficulties of civilian life for veterans or open the door for sharing resources they may not know about.

Donating to reputable nonprofit organizations (like this veteran-led-and-operated one here), especially local organizations that help veterans in your area, and spreading awareness of the services they offer is helpful, too.

With a national decline in mental health, it’s more important than ever that veterans know they are supported and cared for by their communities.